Hey, No Teasing the Ostrich—You May Have More in Common Than You Think
October 30, 2017
I wish I was more like her.
She was the most popular girl in 6th grade. And thanks to assigned seating, I had the privilege of sitting next to her. I felt important and it raised my social status. Kind of. Emily (not her real name) was blessed with beautiful hair, glowing skin, and perfect features. She was tall, but not too tall, thin, and funny. All the boys were nuts about her.
And then there was Madeline (not her real name). Skinny, pretty, and shiny blond hair. With lots of friends.
You sensing a theme here?
Madeline and I used to play together as young'uns until she started hanging out with the cool kids. One day she stopped by and showed me her amazing dance moves. I was super keen to learn them because I didn’t want to make a fool of myself at the upcoming school dance. By the way, this was a mandatory school event. If it had been optional, I'da had wings—with fuel injection and torque. And the only sign of my departure woulda been the wind at the roots of your hair.
Anyways, Madeline demonstrated a couple of moves and I did my best to replicate her body. But I obviously wasn’t doing it right because she kept laughing at me.
“You just look so big. Ha ha”.
I wanted to shrivel up, wrap myself in a cocoon and never come out.
No, superheroes didn't hold a candle to the power of these two young girls. Skinny, pretty, and popular. And I wanted to be like them. I mean, how did I get stuck with me? Big. Tall. Clumsy. Dumb. Ugly. And the personality of a doorknob. That’s what I used to think of myself. I must’ve figured if I could make the outside me more acceptable than the inside would take care of itself.
I got it backwards.
By now I'm sure you’ve figured out my self-esteem was in the toilet. And not a shiny new toilet either. Nope. A disgusting filthy toilet. The point is there was very little I liked about myself. But this is the perfect platform to share with you what hiding looks like. Because that’s one thing I did well. Hide.
How We Hide
I did my best to be invisible, conceal my real self and blend into the background of life. In other words, I kept my head down and tried not to make any waves.
When I was young my hiding was not very subtle. I’d opt out of social events, refrain from asking questions, follow the rules, and shut down my needs—including physical ones I couldn't deny. You can read more about that in Grab Your Juice Box and Carpet Square... It's Show’n Tell.
In my teens, I experimented with alcohol and smoking. I also had a couple brushes with recreational drugs but tended to avoid them because they scared me. As I matured, my hiding tactics also matured. On the surface, everything looked normal to the people around me. I went to college and got good grades. I had an excellent work ethic at my jobs. My appearance was well groomed. I was pleasant towards my co-workers and customers. And I chose boyfriends/spouses who treated me well.
From the outside, everything looked peachy keen. But bubbling beneath the surface was a powerful mix of self-hatred, anger, anxiety, and depression. It was a steaming pile of poop waiting for me to step in. And when I started to slip, it was MESSY.
Of course, cleaning up the mess was just more of the same muck. Blame others for my outburst, make excuses, hate myself even more, and then pay another visit to Uncle D. You know Uncle D…
A is for Apple.
B is for Ball.
C is for Cat.
D is for Depression.
Ya, I wish I’d learned more about D in the alphabet song.
My point is, I was caught up in a horrible cycle. And because I didn’t know a way out, I just kept stick’n my head back in the sand—like our ole friend the Ostrich. Of course, if you knew what to look for, you’d have seen right through me. Here are some telltale signs I was keeping my inner being hidden.
Masks Aren’t Just For Halloween
I did my best to avoid social situations but if I felt obligated to go to an event, I’d stick to my partner like glue. In fact, if my guy would leave my side for even a moment, he’d hear about it later on. That’s for sure.
I’d also put on my best social mask. What I mean is I’d alter my personality to match my environment. If people were smiling and laughing, I’d be smiling and laughing. If people were subdued and professional, I’d be subdued and professional. I didn’t think about it at the time because I figured that’s what everyone did. That was normal for me. But I wasn’t presenting me to the world. I was presenting the person I thought the world wanted me to be.
Supermom to the Rescue
Motherhood swallowed me whole. At first, I focused on trying to figure out how to do this mom thing. I was determined to create this beautiful recipe for raising my son. My plan was to build on the good stuff from my childhood and dump the crappy stuff. So I dove head first into books, mom groups, parenting talk shows, and anything else I could find. More than anything, I wanted to give my son the gift of self. I wanted him to have a voice and know who he was.
But I forgot one thing. Me. Without realizing it, I had secured a new identity— being a mom. For a while, it felt wonderful because I had somewhere to place my focus. But as time went on, that ole empty feeling returned. I realized motherhood alone was not my answer to inner restlessness. I was more than a mom. And I knew the longer I ignored that fact, the lousier I was going to feel. I also knew I had lots of self-discovery ahead of me. But at the time it hadn't dawned on me I was actually hiding the real Vicki inside.
Boys to Men
When it came to the men in my life I had no problem “dumbing down” to attract them or boost their self-esteem. But we had a silent contract that even they didn’t know about—to make me feel happy. So when I felt they weren’t keeping up their end of the deal, I launched into various ways of trying to control them. Of course, I told myself I was merely “teaching” them how to be a better spouse. Oh, brother! What a crock! [smile]. Instead of letting the real me out of prison, I was trying to ease my unhappiness by manipulating everything around me. Yes, healing is a wonderful cure for removing the blinders of the past.
Yes. No. Maybe. I Dunno.
I had a terrible time making decisions. Sometimes I still do but I’m getting better at it. I hated making decisions because I was so afraid of making the wrong ones. I also made decisions based on alleviating the fear and discomfort of the moment rather than what I truly desired. Because I kept my inner being locked away, I didn’t know who I was, what I liked, or what I didn’t like. I was a stranger to myself.
Do I like this colour or that colour?
Do I like this style or that one?
Would I like to eat this or that?
Would I rather do this or that?
Heck if I knew. Instead, I would seek out other people’s preferences and then adopt them as my own. I just didn’t know how to follow my own inner compass. In fact, I didn’t even know I had one.
People Pleasing 101
Saying “no” was very difficult because I didn’t want to upset anyone. Why? I didn’t want them to think badly of me. Because if someone didn’t like me or thought I was selfish or greedy or, or, or… I’d feel horrible inside. I needed people to like me. Looking back now I understand its because I didn’t feel I held any value and so I relied on others to feed my self-esteem.
You Da Bomb!
For the same reason, I had difficulty accepting compliments. I didn’t believe the good things being said about me so I rejected them. Or I one upped them: “No YOU’RE really good at that”, or “no YOU’RE the smart one.” I’d re-examine the compliment when I was alone and wonder to myself if the words could actually be true. Of course, I rarely concluded they were.
If I received a compliment on my hair, I’d scrutinize my doo in the mirror for hours. One day, a classmate told me she liked how I walked. I couldn’t have felt more surprised if a spaceship crashed through the ceiling and landed at my feet. Later that evening I’d find myself in front of a full-length mirror—analyzing my walk and trying to see myself through the eyes of my classmate.
Today I understand why accepting compliments felt so uncomfortable for me. Because accepting them meant I was worth something. And deep down I didn’t believe that to be true.
Just One More Tweak
One more adjustment and it’ll be perfect. But nothing ever was. Nothing I ever did felt quite good enough and so I had impossible standards for myself. Why? Because I didn’t feel valuable inside. So how could I ever produce anything valuable outside? Maybe on some level, I figured if I could make something perfectly I’d feel more perfect inside. Fortunately, it doesn’t work that way. Ya gotta fix the inside stuff first.
As an aside, perfectionism doesn’t live in a bubble. It spills over onto other people. Because if you don’t feel whole inside, you’re not going to let the people around you feel whole either. Cuz that’ll just make you feel worst about yourself. So you extend your perfectionistic standards to your spouse too. And your children. And your co-workers. And anyone else in your life. You get the idea.
Of course, all this is happening without conscious awareness. At the time, it simply feels like your spouse is being a jerk, your kids are on this earth to punish you, and your co-workers are twits. But over time, it wears you down until you fantasize about escaping. Now you’re one step away from leaving your job, your spouse, and maybe even your kids.
I’ve wrestled with perfectionism all my life. I still do. But my strides are growing. Believe me when I say it’s a hallmark symptom of hiding your inner sparkle.
Nothing made me more nervous than a potential confrontation (a.k.a. friendly meeting) with authority figures. Doctors, teachers, bankers, or any professional, successful adults. My palms would sweat and my mind would chase the unknown like a hamster on a wheel. I’d imagine every possible scenario for how things could play out. And when I found myself front and centre, I wasn't present in the moment. Instead, my mind was busy assessing the impression I was making. This is yet another example of how I attempted to manage the people/things around me. I had to make sure they liked me. But what I was actually doing was manufacturing some temporary peace on the inside. Because I was desperate to tame my inner chaos.
One of the biggest ways I’ve hidden my real self through the years has been through stifling my voice.
A lifetime of swallowing how I feel, what I think, what I like, and what I don’t like.
A lifetime of being more concerned with how things looked than how things felt.
A lifetime of appeasing others rather than appeasing myself.
A lifetime of trying to keep the peace and not ruffle any feathers.
And a lifetime of misusing my voice when I could no longer contain my inner tension. It would come barrelling out at explosive levels. And then I'd feel horrible. No, those were not my finest moments. I musta looked like a crazy person.
Granting my voice the freedom it craves is my main motivation for creating this site. Because I’m tired of keeping it all in. Because I’m done with suffering. Because the more I open, and release, and create…well, the more I feel alive, and happy, and free.
Last But Not Least
And finally, I mustn’t forget to include my endless search for meaning and purpose. You see, while I was juggling and controlling all this stuff on the outside, my inner being was in turmoil. It was screaming at me through low energy, physical exhaustion, boredom, restlessness, depression, and yearning. I’ll talk more about these symptoms in my next post. For now, let me say this:
I’ve read countless “find your purpose” and “discover your passion” books over the years. And done aptitude tests, personality quizzes, and self-assessments of all sorts—all in the name of finding that thing that lights me up. To feel alive. And passionate. To live a life of meaning. And purpose. And peace.
Some of this stuff was useful. And inspiring. But the main point here is this endless search was fueled by my inner being seeking freedom. That’s it. One word. Freedom. It wanted out of its prison. So if your bookshelves or electronic devices are full of "personal growth", "find yourself", "heal yourself", "live a life of peace" type books, it’s a strong clue your real self is likely on lockdown. And lookin’ for a way out.
That’s a Wrap
So now you know me more intimately than your favourite pair of socks. But that’s the point of it all—to give a true life account of what hiding looks like.
For reference, here’s a quick summary of clues. Your inner being may be in hiding if you see yourself in these words. You be the judge.
- try to be invisible & blend into the background of life?
- frequently ignore your own needs and desires while servicing other's needs and desires?
- wear social masks?
- alter your personality & behaviour to align with your environment?
- allow a role (e.g. being a mom) to become your identity?
- dumb down to make others feel smart, confident, etc?
- find yourself “teaching” your spouse how to be a better partner?
- make other people responsible for your happiness?
- struggle with/avoid decision-making?
- aren’t in touch with your personal preferences?
- avoid saying “no” to people?
- need people to like and accept you?
- dodge or downplay compliments?
- feel nothing you do and/or others do is ever quite good enough?
- feel nervous in the presence of authority figures?
- frequently don't express what you feel or think?
- focus too much on how things look on the outside rather than how things feel on the inside?
- manage your relationships via peace-keeping?
- have emotional blow-outs and breakdowns?
- are on an endless search for meaning and purpose?
You probably have your own unique style of hiding and so your list may look different than mine. I'm sure our methods are as varied as people and so the footprints we leave behind must also vary. But we all have one thing in common—we pay a price for keeping our inner sparkle dim and contained.
So if you’ve never truly embraced who you really are, or you’ve fantasized about being funnier, or thinner, or smarter, or changing some part of you…remember this:
It’s our birthright to feel joy and we can never feel true joy living in borrowed skin.
You’re an incredible soul full of beauty and wonder and you’re here to let your light shine. It’s your time. Stick with me, kiddo. Let’s shake the sand out of our hair together and embrace a new way of living—from the inside out.
Disclaimer: This is a personal blog and I’m not a mental health professional. Obviously. I can’t possibly know your full situation so please consult a professional before acting upon information from yourpurpleswan.com. Should you decide to act of your own accord, you do so at your own risk. Kinda like skydiving.
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